Thursday 20 October 2011

Seven Undeadly Sins

I'm thinking more and more that the right approach in monster-ology lies between Flame Princess' "do it yourself, do it all yourself" and conventional D&D's "here, all the monsters are in this book." In fact, my one-armed man chart from earlier in the week comes within an ace of accounting for the hit dice of most existing classic monsters, and is a good template for any others you may care to design.

But what about the stranger stuff, like undead? Well, what makes undead scary and unpredictable is their special abilities, both attack and defense. This suggests a little d6 table with possibilities for abilities that will make each encounter uncertain and memorable. After all, folklore doesn't treat ghosts as a race, but as a class of cursed beings, each with its own story.

One thing I want to do before Halloween is try a new take on the undead, using as a background the medieval church doctrine of the Seven Deadly Sins. Beyond a naturalist "ecology" of the undead, these reworkings imply a mythical symbology and moral psychology of these wretched creatures. In brief: sloth = zombies, gluttony = ghouls, envy = shadows, avarice = wights/mummies, lust = vampires, wrath = spectres/wraiths, pride = liches. Justifications to follow, especially for that one that doesn't quite seem as right as the others.

A final issue: undead-ism is most often seen as a curse transmitted unwillingly, but the more frightful possibility is that some persons desire the various states of undeath, as a means of achieving desires unavailable to living mortals. It's this potential that I think affords a new vantage point on these venerable villains.


  1. Well... yes. The thing about being a lich, in particular, is that you have to want it; you can't make a phylactery by accident (no matter what J. K. Rowling says). Variation within the core categories is also a great way to account for the huge variety of legends about the undead - all those powers and weaknesses exist somewhere and so have found their way into legends, but not every undead thingie will have all of the ones expected of it.

    The seven deadly sins thing isn't the way I'd break down the undead, but it's definitely an interesting take, especially if you want those sins to have some sort of resonance in the campaign world... thinking about it, I might actually be tempted to use it under the right circumstances. Looking forward to wherever you take it, anyway.

  2. my one-armed man chart

    I haven't seen that term used in a long time, so at first I was imagining a random encounter chart made up entirely of one-armed men!

    This is an interesting approach to the undead, so I'm keen to see more of the thinking behind it.

  3. Have you played Dragon Age? The demons in that are deadly sins based

  4. "but the more frightful possibility is that some persons desire the various states of undeath, as a means of achieving desires unavailable to living mortals."

    It seems to be reasonably common in fiction to have sorcerers, occultists or mad scientists who become other than human in their pursuit of knowledge and power.